Thursday, October 8, 2015
'Madame Roxy's Erotic Emporium' at the Scissorhand Barbershop, 7th October 2015
Thursday, October 8, 2015 by londoncitynights
Whether you're after hetero-vanilla glossy L.A. action or furtive brown-bag fetish ultraporn Madame Roxy's Erotic Emporium has you covered. Snugly nestled in a Soho back alley, the bulging shelves showcase a kaleidoscope of fetishes, from cheeky uniform kink to pregnancy porn to scat to snuff. If you're looking for toys, there's paddles, butt-plugs, vibrators - even an autodildonic motorised fuck-throne! There's even a peep show theatre in the basement, complete with the standard stained carpets and reams of tissue.
Truly Madame Roxy's is everything anyone could ever want in a sex shop.
A felt sex shop anyway.
Madame Roxy's is the latest project from one of my favourite artists, felt-wrangler extraordinaire Lucy Sparrow. I first saw her the 2013 Whitecross Street Festival, where her felt Rose West in the style Andy Warhol was drawing loud abuse from angry passers by. I figured any artist whose work inspires public threats to burn it is someone to pay attention to.
Sparrow really hit the big time with last year's Cornershop, recreating the contents of a local newsagent entirely from felt. All the big media cheeses weighed in, from The Daily Mail to Buzzfeed. Open for the summer, it was impressive in every regard, from the inspiration to the effort to the execution. At the time I wondered how Sparrow was going to top it - surely she's taken felt just about as far as it can go?
Not even close. Madame Roxy's is a quantum leap forward in felt - a punky, political, precision constructed art experience - something that makes the mind boggle the moment you step inside. Though made of felt, the shop has an instant verisimilitude - so much so that, on the first day of opening, an embarrassed businessman crept inside and tried to buy Viagra, the staff having to carefully explain that this is an art installation and not an actual sex shop.
First and most obviously, seeing graphic sexual acts rendered in fabric is funny. Felt is inherently unthreatening; recalling primary school arts and crafts or grandmotherly Christmas presents. A buttplug, normally plastic, shiny and rubbery, becomes huggable, the spanking paddles more likely to tickle a partner than sting them. Sparrow takes the invitingly tactile quality of felt as far towards perversion as it's possible to go; even felt watersports rendered in gold glitterpen and 'Vomit Vixens' ("The most revolting centrefold EVER!") land on just the right side of sweet.
It'd be easy to stop there, but scattered amongst the shelves are works that seriously prick an audience's liberal consciences. "Some like it Hot.. Some Like it Sweet.. Some like it VIOLENT" depicts a man strangling a naked woman, "Snuff films presents: DEATH BY BEHEADING" shows two men slitting a young girl's throat and, in the most disturbing one I spotted, "No Legs. No Arms. Amputee Porn." appears to show a limbless, decomposing corpse.
It's in these unnerving titles that Madame Roxy's marks itself as truly special. Without them it'd be easy to level criticism that Sparrow is merely making a cute n' cuddly sex shop experience. Nobody wants to go into some bubblewrapped, self-censored fantasy slum designed for well-to-do middle classers who wouldn't dream of treading the cum-stained corridors of a genuine Soho establishment.
That reticence, coupled with the dominance of internet porn, threatens the neighbouring (not felt) sex shops with extinction. After all, these days people prefer to pleasure themselves behind locked bedroom doors rather than popping into central London and furtively stuffing a brown paper bag under their coat. In the interests of research I popped over the road from Madame Roxy's and had a nice chat with the proprietor of Up West British Adult Shop. She was over the moon with the popularity of their new neighbour and called my attention to the fact that depicting many of the sex acts on Roxy's shelves are now illegal in this country (not, apparently, in felt form)
The two interiors make for a fascinating contrast, Sparrow's furry friendliness seems all the more amusing in comparison to the sea of glistening cellophane DVD wrappers and silicone rubber phalluses. Sadly these shops are probably going the way of the dodo, stamped out by a combination of online porn and skyrocketing rents. Soho, for decades an oasis of counterculture in the heart of London, is becoming gradually crushed under the weight of luxury flats and chintzy bespoke cakeries.
Madame Roxy's reminds us that these places are a crucial part of Soho's psychological fabric - the seasoning that gives the neighourhood its distinctive atmosphere. Free from prudery, moral judgment and entirely sex positive, Madame Roxy's might be the best site-specific installation I've ever seen, ultimately the value of these establishments. It's a good thing too there's precious few people who'll publically sing their praises.
But primarily, Madame Roxy's is entertaining, hilarious and, surprisingly, often kinda arousing. There's something for every persuasion on these carefully crafted and curated shelves. It's only open for a week, so I urge you to check it out as soon as possible. There's nothing else like it in London.